‘We need courses that last a 100 years’ + ‘In order to learn, students need to break the law’

(A selection of radical thoughts about learning and education from Mobilityshifts event – Part 4)


Benjamin Bratton’s presentation was (quite appropriately) titled ‘Ambivalent Remarks on Computation, Political Geography, Pedagogy’. He referred to an interview of philosopher Bernard Stiegler and his concepts of short and long circuits in education.

“The problem of long circuits turning into short circuits is a fundamental condition which we have to grasp – that is – the time of digital technologies is too short – what we need in very very long classes, not very very short classes.”

“The condition of education… is to train the attention of next generation, to train them to have attention, to pay attention, to comprehend their own attentiveness – it is to train them to have a memory, to train them to have a conception of time that is appropriate.”

Benjamin proposes that we need courses that can be located within long arcs of time:

“I think 500 years is a reasonable span for a course to try to locate for the students, so that they can locate themselves in this arc. Courses that don’t have a 500 year arc, that aren’t teaching what it is that they are teaching in terms of a 500 year context are probably too shallow. And I think this can be just as true for very practical courses – you know, is there a way to teach a ‘how to hack a website’ workshop, or how to build an android app, with a 500 year arc of understanding what that means. How did we arrive at the possibility of asking this question and even proposing this skill.”

We also need very long courses:

“Instead of a course that goes on for 10 weeks, or even for one year, prefer courses that go on for 10 years, or perhaps a 100 years, a faculty handing off one to another, like architects of medieval churches.”


On the flight to the conference Benjamin happened to sit next to a Israeli cryptographer who had two arguments about education that Benjamin wanted to pass on to the conference audience:

“Students have to understand that we are currently building a legacy codebase at a planetary level which will exist and endure for generations.”

“In order to be successful in the design of this legacy codebase for the generations to come we have to be willing to assign students things that are as of today illegal – with the presumption that it is the things that exits outside the legal structures will form the base of the constitutional structures to come”


Creating counter-narratives: Alastair Fuad-Luke on design activism

I met up with Alastair Fuad-Luke early on a Sunday morning to talk about design activism.

Alastair is currently based in Helsinki as Professor of Practice in Emerging Design Practices at Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture (that’s a long title!). Alastair will stay in Finland until December 2014 (at least) and is dividing his time between Aalto University in Helsinki and City of Lahti / Lahti University of Applied Sciences.

Alastair – could you introduce yourself briefly?

I was trained as an inter-disciplinarian and graduated as an environmental scientist in late 70s. I then started my doctoral research in applied biology in Cambridge, but this research was never completed since I set up a consultancy on ecological design – to repair industrial environments. I specialised in ecology and systems thinking and was working with planners, geologists, computer scientists, municipalities, etc. The consultancy soon evolved into an ecological landscape design and build company which is still functioning today, although I have not personally been involved since 1990.

I started to teach design in late 90s, I gave my first lecture on ‘eco-design’ in 1998.

Your most recent book is titled ‘Design activism’. How would you define design activism?

The preliminary definition can be found from the page 27 (this was written in 2009):

Design activism is ‘design thinking, imagination and practice applied knowingly or unknowingly to create a counter-narrative aimed at generating and balancing positive social, institutional, environmental and/or economic change’.
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Just another day in the park

Zuccotti Park, 14 Oct 2011, 7 AM

During my visit to NYC this week, I had a chance to visit the Zuccotti Park a couple of times. I was impressed by the way discussions and decision-making were arranged. The mood was friendly and jubilant.

It’s unfortunate that the recent discussion related to Occupy Wall Street has focused on the question WHO are the people in the park, or more precisely WHO has the right to be there. To me this question seems rather irrelevant – if Occupy Wall Street is a forum for political discussion then everyone should have the right, even a duty, to be there. Public square as a political tool is a very old invention, it was probably invented before the wheel.

As a my little contribution to the on-going discussion about the Occupy Wall Street movement, I wanted to shortly refer to some thoughts of political theorist / activist Hannah Arendt. I take the liberty to interpret her thoughts quite freely here:

In her most well-known book ‘The Human Condition’, she argues that we should make a distinction between three terms: labor, work and action. LABOR is related to our basic survival as species – we have physical bodies we need to take care of, we need to find food to eat, we need to copulate to produce new human beings. WORK is the way we modify our surroundings, how we create tools, products and services – how we act in our professional occupation. ACTION is the domain where we act as free citizens – the domain where we express our thoughts, the domain where by default we do NOT agree about things.

In the discussion related to Occupy Wall Street movement, these three perspectives tend to get confused. Related to LABOR, the argument is that the people on the square are too well-off: they are not the poorest, they are not the starving ones, so they should shut up and go home. Related to WORK, the ‘WE ARE THE 99%’ slogan has perhaps been more counter-productive than useful for the discussion: it creates a far too simplified idea of ‘us’ versus ‘them’.

Despite your position in the context of LABOR or WORK, you have the right and duty to be part of ACTION, to act as a citizen and participate in the political debate. EVERYONE should have the right to be at the square.

* * *

I visited the park this week on Wednesday evening, when there was a discussion about buying new equipment to handle the live internet transmissions. It was dark, cold, rainy and windy, but direct democracy was still functioning. A decision was made to spend $25 740 for new equipment.

The ‘stack’, ‘blocks’, various hand signals, the live transcript on a screen and foremostly the people’s mic – issues are discussed through a slow, detailed process (see Generally Assembled at #OccupyWallStreet). Some of the hand signals were in used in General Assemblies in Spain and other countries in Europe this summer.

This is NOT how decisions are usually made in everyday life – in schools, in companies, in politics. Occupy Wall Street is an important demonstration of how complex issues can be discussed and decided collectively. Many people have learned this lesson now and hopefully this will have a concrete influence in many big and small institutions where these people are based. I’m not saying that exactly these methods should be copied everywhere – there are also many other methods for implementing direct democracy.

* * *

In her book ‘On Revolution’, Arendt admires the way the constitution of United States was originally written through an elaborate, slow process that involved a large amount of citizens in all the different states. This is the ACTION that Arendt is talking about. It would be great if the constitution would be completely re-written on regular intervals, so that every generation could participate in this important process.

In the same book, she also writes about the ‘lost treasure’ of revolution. It is the exceptional spirit that arises during revolutionary times, the change in one’s being when one gets involved in a movement that wants to fundamentally change things. There is a lot of that spirit in the air at Zuccotti Park and a strong tendency towards ‘unity’ and ‘consensus’. In this sense the event is also a carnival – and it should be so. But if there is only ‘unity’ and ‘consensus’ then the event is just a carnival and no longer a political event. The important political issues are the ones in which there is no clear agreement.

Zuccotti Park, 14 Oct 2011, 7 AM


Alternative Design Capital – the first steps

The first ADC meeting

The first ADC meeting / Photo: Antti Ahonen

Some time ago I wrote a critical blog posting about the upcoming Helsinki World Design Capital year. This posting generated a lot of public discussion and now for some weeks there has been an on-going process to set up an Alternative Design Capital.

What will this Alternative Design Capital aim for and how will it function? We don’t know yet, the discussion about this has only begun. And it’s even unclear how decisions are made. The challenge is to find a healthy ratio between talking and doing, to keep the process open for new ideas but also to fix some key points that can help the project to focus and develop. ADC as an organisation strives to be open and democratic but in contrast to this, in context of design, democracy is most often not the best way to make decisions – this often leads to boring and safe solutions.

There was good energy and great discussions in the first meeting, please join us the second one on Wednesday 19 October 18:00 at HUB Helsinki.

Alternative Design Capital planning wiki can be found here.

Open Helsinki @ DMY MakerLab

I was invited to curate the Open Helsinki & Pixelache Helsinki programme for this year’s DMY MakerLab in Berlin. This was the second edition of DMY MakerLab, dedicated to open design and maker culture.

DMY festival is pretty similar to many other big design fairs, but DMY tries to stand out from the others by emphasising critical and experimental approaches to design, as well as highlighting work done by graduating students and emerging designers. The venue is the amazingly massive Tempelhof airport and this year’s event attracted more than 30 000 visitors. So, it was noisy and busy, but the mood was friendly and relaxed. Most of the MakerLab workshops were well attended and especially the quick drop-in workshop worked very well, people were happy to stop for an hour or so to learn and do something.

Below you can find some glimpses of the Open Helsinki section (YKON Game, Low2No School of Activism, We *Love* Open Data and Massimo Menichinelli / openp2pdesign.org) and Pixelache Helsinki section (OHANDA open hardware initiative and Temporary photoElectric Digestopians Worklab by Bartaku).

Temporary photoElectric Digestopians [TpED] are experimental e-tapas designed to provide an electric tickle on a heliotropic tongue. Fusing cooking with solar cell design, light energy is harvested by edible power plants and transformed into electrical energy. After the e-tickle has enriched the taste, the left over energy (kJoules) powers the body and flows further into nature as nutrient for the plants. The TpED worklabs are a node of Bartaku’s ongoing research ‘PhoEf: The Undisclosed Poésis of the Photovoltaic Effect’. Bartaku is a Brussels based artistic researcher and member of transdisciplinary lab FoAM. Here are some TpED photos and Bartaku’s interview at WMMNA.

is an initiative to foster sustainable sharing of open hardware and design. It was first drafted at the GOSH!-Grounding Open Source Hardware summit at the Banff Centre in July 2009 and one of the first goals of the project is to build a service for sharing open hardware designs which includes a certification model and a registration. More information at www.ohanda.org.

The YKON Game was one of the nominees for the DMY 2011 Award. YKON Game is a world simulation game for up to 30 -50 players, inspired by Buckminster Fuller’s World Game. The game is based on a simple thought experiment: Imagine that the world is brought to a complete halt. Everything stops. No more business as usual. With the world being frozen, you and your fellow players can tinker with the world as you please. What will you change? How do you convince others to go along with your changes? And what about the consequences? In short: The YKON Game is a workshop, party and therapy session in one. 

The Low2Now Camp
by Demos Helsinki project brought a busload of urban activists from Helsinki to Berlin. During three days they hosted the Low2No School of Activism and explored the local scene in Berlin. More information and great examples of urban grassroot initiatives can be found at Low2Now Camp blog.

Massimo Menichinelli
from openp2pdesign.org gave two presentations: ‘Open P2P Design’ and ‘Open P2P Design & Markets and business models for Open and DIY projects’. You can find the presentation slides here.

We *Love* Open Data
is a bunch of open data researchers and enthusiasts from Helsinki. This informal collective was formed for the occasion of DMY MakerLab but has continued its activities afterwards as well. During DMY the group managed to collect and visualize information about rental prices in Berlin. In addition, Miska Knapek presented some of his sculptures which visualize/materialize long time spans of weather data. More info at weloveopendata.com blog.

You can find more information about these and other MakerLab projects from DMY Berlin website. Some additional photos can be found from my DMY Berlin photoset and I also made a short walk-through video of the DMY MakerLab area.

* * *

About DMY MakerLab:
The DMY MakerLab serves as a public experimentation space for accessing new technologies, communicating and exchanging concepts. Inaugurated in the 2010 DMY design festival, the lab is the first large maker platform in Germany and was enthusiastically received by the press, public and professionals alike. The lab unites inventors, designers and visitors in a workshop area fitted with some of the finest techno­lo­gies and materials available, side by side with low-tech instruments and applications. Visitors may learn how to grow medicinal mushrooms, experience seasonal influences while working with fabrics, access and visualise open data and collectively map ideas. Moreover, they can engage in full day workshops on open hardware, benchmarking of environmental case studies or Cradle to Cradle principles.


Tactical Media in 2001 <> Tactical Media in 2010

EPIDEMIC art installation in D.I.N.A event, 2001

This posting is an attempt to explore some connections between tactical media and citizen activism in 2001 and 2010.


Some more or less nostalgic memories from year 2001 –

In May 2001 I participated an event called D.I.N.A (Digital Is Not Analog) in Bologna, Italy. The event had been announced just a few of days before it took place, probably because the organisers didn’t actually want to attract too much audience, due to a very unusual lineup of presenters. Many of them had never revealed their real identities, they had only become known via their websites and alias names.


The ‘person’ I was most curious to meet was Netochka Nezvanova. ‘Netochka Nezvanova’ is Russian and means ‘nameless nobody’, a title and the main character of an unfinished novel by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. The writings of the online Netochka gave an impression that she was one female person – even though it was quite certain that there were more than one person involved in her projects.

Netochka was famous/infamous for sending a huge quantity of emails to many international lists, using her own cryptic language. The postings were a mix of shameless self-promotion (for herself and her nato.0+55+3d software), philosophical ramblings and provocative comments about some well-known individuals in the net culture scene. Some of her websites were eusocial.com, membank.org and m9ndfukc.com, and her writings gave an impression that she had her own anarchistic wordview and political agenda, but it was impossible to figure out what it was. Here is a small sample:

aprez - az laughtr g!vz ua! 2 konzum>tearz.
 + memor!ez r sk!nd al!v - ch!ldhood !z bloun
 through dze ruztle ov autumn leavez +
 celz [ue] reg!ztr !n un!zon dze magn!tude
 ov a s!ngl !mprec!z!e.
nn. tu!rl!ng. out ov s!ght. u!th!n u.
akt!vat!ng d!zturbansz !n sod!um-potass!um
 eku!ll!br!um akross neuron membranez.
apropoz = 01 apple.com agent = ov op!n!e ur =cw4t7abs reklama
 = luvl!. != made !t ultra publ!k tzo = muzt !osc!lat u!ldl!.
 he = thought ! = uaz tr!zte + angr! auss!. naja.
 !ch b!n ganz gluckl!ch + fre!. salut.

When it was Netochka’s turn to give a presentation, she sat down on a chair and placed some living snails on her gray dress. She continued by reading a poem and meanwhile the snails ‘drew’ an abstract ‘painting’ on her dress.

Netochka’s snails


Another invited presenter was Ricardo Domingues, one of the members of Electronic Disturbance Theatre. Ricardo gave a presentation about Virtual Sit-Ins, a method for organising online protests. The participants of a virtual sit-in would download an application that would send a large amount of requests to a certain website, eventually causing it to crash.

Ricardo also told about the Zapatista Air Force. The Chiapas government had been spreading a false rumour that the Zapatistas were planning ‘new acts of violence’. This rumour was used as an excuse to increase the governments’ military force in Lacandon jungle where the Zapatista army was supposedly hiding.

The local people responded by organising a demonstration, or rather an act of political theatre, by throwing paper planes over the fence of the military camp. They wanted to break the ‘sound barrier’ which the government had established between them and the soldiers. One of the messages said “Soldiers, we know that poverty has made you sell your lives and souls. I also am poor, as are millions. But you are worse off, for defending our exploiter”.

Inspired by this event, the Electronic Disturbance Theater released a software called “Zapatista Tribal Port Scan” which would repeatedly send a poem about the Zapatista struggle for peace to government’s servers, through the “barbed wire” of internet.

Ricardo Domingues

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